“Godspell,” the 1971 musical about Jesus and his apostles, brings to the stage a vision of spirituality so earnest that it can veer perilously close to self-parody. With its thrift-store costuming and vaudeville-style song-and-dance numbers, the show is the ultimate in accessible feel-good Christianity. In the 2000 movie “Meet the Parents” Ben Stiller’s future in-laws ask him to say grace, and the only words he can conjure are the lyrics to “Day by Day,” the “Godspell” ditty that the composer Stephen Schwartz set to lyrics from a 13th-century Roman Catholic prayer. Everyone, even a nervous Jew under the watchful eye of a C.I.A. agent father-in-law, remembers those tunes.
But “Godspell,” which opens Monday in its first Broadway revival, was serious business in 1971. At the time American religion was in a profound state of flux. The pews were emptying out, and children especially were disappearing from mainline Christianity. Vocations to the Catholic priesthood were cratering, and from 1963 to 1972 the number of American Catholics going to Mass declined from about three quarters to half (and kept falling). To take one startling statistic, Episcopal church school enrollment fell by a quarter from 1965 to 1971, the year “Godspell” made its debut Off Broadway. John-Michael Tebelak, who conceived and first directed the show, was himself an Episcopalian who later flirted with the priesthood before dying, at 36, in 1985. His church’s pews, even more than most, were vacant.Continue Reading on www.nytimes.com